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Twins' Slama related to North Dakota polka band leader

Minnesota Twins pitcher Anthony Slama throws his first major league pitch as he made his debut against the Cleveland Indians last Wednesday. AP Photo/Jim Mone

Folks in Milton, N.D., knew all about Anthony Slama. He was a farmer who - because he played a bugle in the Army - developed a fascination for music and formed polka bands, Fourth of July bands, high school bands and even bands that marched down the muddy streets of Milton.

That was back in the 1920s.

Today, folks in Milton - and there's about 80 of them - are getting reacquainted with Anthony Slama. That's because the great-grandson of Anthony Slama the farmer and bandleader is a major league pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.

There was Anthony Slama last Wednesday night in Target Field making his major league debut. The 26-year-old righthander from California - who was named after St. Anthony and his great grandfather - stepped on the mound in the ninth inning and proceeded to strike out two Cleveland batters mopping up in a 6-0 win.

Tom Slama, the father of Anthony the Twin and the grandson of Anthony the bandleader, was in Target Field with his wife, Lisa, watching the memorable event.

"It was amazing," Tom said. "I've seen him pitch in hundreds of games. Then I finally realized this is a major league park, this is a major league performance."

Tom and his brother Kevin grew up in California. Their father Kenneth - son of Anthony the bandleader - grew up in Milton, located in Cavalier County about 70 miles northwest of Grand Forks.

Kenneth remembers Milton as a town of 400 residents with three grocery stores, a dance hall, a movie theater, a doctor, a dentist and three bars. Milton once was the largest town in Cavalier County with 800 residents.

Today, Milton has the usual sites of a somewhat dying rural town: a post office, a church, a bank, a cafe, a bar and a fertilizer plant.

At age 52, Kenneth left Milton for California. His boys Tom and Kevin remember taking family vacations back to Milton.

"The countryside was so wide open," Tom said. "And I remember going into town grabbing bottles of Pepsi out of this weird little chest freezer. It was neat."

"I remember picking rhubarb that grew next to the barber shop across the street from our aunt's trailer house," said Kevin Slama, who like his brother Tom, raised his family in Garden Grove, Calif.

It was in Garden Grove where Tom played Little League baseball with Bert Blyleven - a former Twins pitcher who now is the color commentary for Twins' telecasts.

"I don't know if Bert remembers much of my son," Kenneth said with a chuckle.

But Bert is well aware of his son - Anthony Slama the major league pitcher.

Slama was selected by the Twins in the 39th round of the 2006 draft. He began his pro career with the rookie level Elizabethon (Tenn.) Twins, where he once struck out 10 batters in 7.1 innings.

He became a minor league all-star in 2008 pitching for the Twins Class A affiliate in Fort Myers. His 13.9 strikeouts per inning ranked third among all minor league players.

Many felt Slama was going to be called up to the Twins from Class AAA Rochester (N.Y.) a lot sooner than last week.

"It seemed like it was overdue," said uncle Kevin Slama. "But to Anthony's credit, he kept telling us that the Twins know what they are doing and they are the professionals.

"Anthony and his sister Emily ... they are the best kids and I'm not just saying that. They are a parent's dreams. Anthony is such an achiever yet unfailingly polite."

Kenneth Slama, the 87-year-old grandpa, agrees. Kenneth, who listened to L.A. Dodgers games on the radio while growing up in Milton, has one more wish now.

"My main thrill before I die would be Minnesota playing the Dodgers and having Vin Scully announce when Anthony comes into the game," Kenneth said.

Of course, Scully is the legendary broadcast voice of the Dodgers. If nothing else, perhaps Bert Blyleven will someday circle a sign waving in Target Field that reads: "Milton, N.D., is proud of Anthony Slama."

That would be Anthony Slama the polka-band leader and Anthony Slama the major league baseball player.

Kevin Schnepf is a columnist at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.